Like many Austrians, I was first introduced to libertarianism through the writings of Ayn Rand. Despite having had many years to correct the errors I picked up from her, I still at times fall prey to the belief that rich businessmen are a class of victims, abused by the state. Certainly the state apparatus labors to make it appear so. However, getting up close and personal with this group quickly eliminates this illusion.
A few days ago, I was asked to provide EMS coverage at a major golf tournament, attended by all the rich types. I expected the surprised glances as the millionaires walked by, scratching their heads and asking "who invited him to the party?" for just a moment, until they realize that I am the hired help. I expected the patronizing conversation, the overly-gracious thanks when I provided a band-aid (no doubt impressed that a member of a less privileged class had the forethought to bring band-aids to a first aid station.) I was prepared for the "you all are soooo appreciated, you have no idea how important firemen are" speeches given by the women treated for faintness after their first experiences of walking outside in the sun. For the record, I’m not a fireman.
What I had failed to prepare myself for were the glaring reminders of just how wealth is accumulated in the New America. The preppy, faintly handsome men making conversation with me after receiving their band-aids tended to wear the name of their company emblazoned on their polo shirts. "That’s odd," I would think, noticing that the skinny, geeky man in my first aid station is upper-level Halliburton management, "he doesn’t look like a murderer." And so it went. Perhaps the specific evils engaged in would be different in other regions, but here in Texas, the wealthy seem to be entirely in oil or contracting. Now, certainly, I don’t want to suggest that oil companies are comparable to defense contractors. I have had it up to beyond here with accusations of price-gouging and all the rest, yet I can’t help but be a little suspicious of an industry that profits so much from the government’s splendid little wars. Before you start screaming that contractors are much-needed privatization in an area previously controlled by government, remember that the definition of fascism has to do with this nice little public-private partnership. Remember also that what we want is a free-market of consumer-chosen goods, not government-chosen bads. Do not try to convince me that Halliburton, Blackwater, Bechtel, and KBR are shining exemplars of free-market capitalism. You sure as heck can’t get away with that one post-Katrina.
So, these mild-mannered, geeky, annoyingly nice men are the people leading our new mercenary groups, working out the contracts, laying the groundwork and propaganda leading up to a war…and watching other men hit little balls with clubs. But that’s not all I saw. After so many years of hearing those standing to profit from death and mayhem extol the virtues of supporting the troops, what I saw that day was seemingly ironic, but in actuality all too pervasive.
The gentleman, bearing a ticket duly issued by the PGA, had come to the attention of EMS after falling several times. His medical history revealed that he had drunk several beers, but regularly had trouble maintaining his balance anyway, as he suffered from sciatica, vertigo, and PTSD. PTSD, hmm? Yes, apparently, after 2 tours in Vietnam, culminating in a purple heart.
Well, a purple heart veteran, surely a welcome guest among those who so loudly support our troops. He must have been a guest of honor at the party. If you believe that…no, the attendees looked at the man with distaste, and disgust. EMS consulted with PGA guest relations specialists, who called for the police. This skinny old man was then arrested by no less than 5 heavily armed, strapping young men, representing various police forces. The sense of helplessness that fills one as he witnesses severe injustice committed by a paramilitary police force is heavy, a burden on the head and heart.
The supposed charge was refusing to leave. This is an odd charge, as I many times watched the man ask the various people around him to direct him to a bus stop so that he could leave. They also added on public intoxication (if this is so public, why is the PGA able to ask him to leave?), as if the other attendees weren’t toasted. As the man insisted "I’m too drunk to drive, I need a bus" the police officers noted his intention to drive home, apparently also a crime now. Not that it was all business and no fun; the police officers took the time to make fun of and laugh at the man.
Yes, yes, this was private property, or at least rented. But it seems to me that if I agree to let you into my house, and then change my mind, all I can do is ask you to leave, not lock you in a cage. If you are in the process of leaving, I cannot label you a trespasser and lock you up, all while prohibiting you, at gunpoint, from leaving. Certainly, I have no moral right to call upon agents funded forcibly by others to do so. But, more to the point, as I once overheard Roderick Long remark, there are bad things in the universe other than rights violations. Halliburton executives harassing an injured veteran may not be a rights violation, but it certainly strikes me as wrong. How dare they generate pro-war propaganda, smearing me as insufficiently supporting the troops, and then treat the product of their actions so horribly?
In another timestream, this man might have been a lawyer, President, or maybe even something useful. Had the war planners not gotten Vietnam and their draft, maybe he would have gone to medical school, or gotten in on computers early; anything other than destroying his body and mind parachuting into hostile lands filled with people who hated him — for the damage wreaked on their lives by others in the same uniform. At this very moment, these executives are helping to create a whole new generation of lost potential, men who instead of having happy lives will be forever scarred, physically and emotionally, and unable to enjoy a normal life. For all that might have been, the truth is that now this man is the object of ridicule and scorn, laughed at and jailed. This so that other men, the older version of the very men now demanding that he be removed from their sight, might make their money and play their games. Now we live through the horror again, having learned nothing.
Support the troops, my ass. I plead to bring them out of harm’s way, where they sit in service of nothing but the wallet of the man asking me for a band-aid, and am told I hate the troops. They squirm at the sight of their victims, and have them hauled away in handcuffs, and tell us how much they support the troops. This is the New America, and really, you don’t need any part of it. Move to the country, or out of the country, and live a quiet life of reflection, making enough money to live comfortably without trying to keep up with anyone. You’ll be happier, and able to look at yourself in the mirror. You could earn "a phone number" working for these folks, but how would you wake up?
Joshua Katz [send him mail] was Chief of EMS at the Town of Hempstead Park and Recreation for the past three summers. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He is presently tutoring and volunteering, as well as reading voluminously, while waiting for Texas bureaucrats to renew his EMS certification. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie as a way to safeguard his health, lest he need treatment by a doctor.